In my admittedly scathing postmortem of the first 90 days of Zambian president Michael Sata’s administration, I expressed deep reservations about several policy decisions he has made so far as they seem to point to a worrying trend. After nearly another month of his presidency, I see things getting worse.
It is clear that Mr Sata has no real strong philosophical base of ideas to guide his decisions and he seems to do whatever is popular or what he stubbornly thinks is the right thing, despite evidence to the contrary. Take for instance reducing the size of government that he promised to do. He kept his promise (though in minor way) by merging several ministries and thereby reducing the number of Ministers and Permanent Secretries (PS’s). He promised to cut government waste (he recently cancelled a workshop in Livingstone for PS’s) and fight corruption (he is aggressively going after members of the regime of former president Rupiah Banda).
But then he decided to create a new Province (Muchinga Province) which will add several new layers of bureacracy to an already bloated government. It will also likely entail spending money on constructing new buildings to house the provincial administration, buying vehicles, hiring people, creating tons of paperwork, etc. He has kept the District Commissioners who really serve no useful purpose and added more costs by firing all the previous 73 Commissioners and replacing them with his henchmen. What was the cost of laying off those 73 people? He seems to set up a new Commission of Enquiry to investigate suspected corruption in the previous government every other week and the people running them are paid for very time they sit.
How many billions of Kwacha is all this going to cost the taxpayer in this very poor country? It is clear that Mr Sata does not understand the fundamental reason for cutting the size of government. Big government equals more taxes, waste and corruption. He fails to realize that even his own fight against corruption is undermined when the government is too big because there are far more avenues for corruption. He only made a token reduction in government size (he never actually abolished any Ministry, many of which are useless) and failed to follow through with the same logic in other areas. He thus shows he has no clue what he is doing on this specific issue of cutting the size of government. The only other explanation would be dishonesty, which is far worse.
I often wonder if he even listens to advice or whether he gets any as he has made embarrassing decisions (that could have been avoided with a little consultation) such as appointing ten nominated Members of Parliament instead of the statutory eight or attempting to appoint as Permanent Secretary former Intelligence chief Xavier Chungu (who was one of the most important cogs in the machinery of the corrupt late former president Frederick Chiluba). Doesn’t a president ask for paperwork to sign on such things? Wouldn’t the people producing the paperwork advise him he is wrong? Or are they too scared of him?
For all his huge promises to improve the economy and put more money into our pockets, I see nothing tangible Sata is doing in this direction. The number of good decisions on the economy is probably less than the fingers of one hand but there are several bad decisions. His predecessor Banda (for all his corruption) at least made many good tangible economic decisions such as reducing the cost of doing business, cutting regulations, simplifying business procedures, courting investors, resisting Windfall Tax (Sata fortunately has followed suit on this one), opening up the International communications gateway to competition and privatizing Zamtel (yes I know it was probably corruptly done but the decision to sell was nevertheless the correct one).
For over 20 years, I have known about Mr Sata’s weaknesses. After finally getting the ultimate power he has fought for over many years, his character flaws are now being magnified on the national stage and I feel even more disappointed about him. It only a matter of time when Zambians shall once again realize they have been duped by another smooth-talking politician who is going to do jack (I will not be surprised to see resignations from the Sata government once its members see what is going on).
Welcome to Zambia, the real Africa.